Why US Sticks with Foreign Policy by Coalition This Year's Crises with Yugoslavia and Iraq Put Multilateral Alliances to New Test

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Ever since the United States led more than 30 countries to victory over Iraq in the 1991 Gulf War, use of multilateral coalitions to defuse crises has become a hallmark of its strategy for global stability.

Washington's emphasis on collective action, especially in the United Nations, is evident on both diplomatic and military fronts. These range from US-authored intervention in Bosnia-Herzegovina and new Asian and African security initiatives to plans to expand the North Atlantic Treaty Organization into Eastern Europe.

But this year, the Clinton administration has found itself at odds with coalition partners over crises in Iraq and Yugoslavia. The disputes have forced the US to compromise, leaving it short of its policy goals while stoking frictions with key allies. As a result, some experts question whether coalitions are helping or hindering US foreign policy. Some believe the US has become more concerned with averting the humiliation of a coalition collapse than with using its political and military muscle to extinguish threats to US interests. "A deal is not worth anything if it undercuts the objectives you are trying to achieve," a Pentagon consultant says on condition of anonymity. "We want the appearance that a coalition is working. But that gives the weakest sister ... the power to coerce other members to change policy." Not much glue left Feuds between the US and its coalition partners are inevitable, say some experts, citing the absence of a common foe, greater economic competition, and a perception of American arrogance of power. "There is no massive threat to provide cohesion to any coalition over the long term," says Ted Galen Carpenter of the Cato Institute, a libertarian group in Washington. "Nations are increasingly pursuing their own interests and in many cases, they do not overlap with Washington's interests." Anger is especially sharp in Congress, where some lawmakers perceive a failure or reluctance of European nations to work in concert with the US. Even senior US officials acknowledge being frustrated by the outcome of the recent Iraq confrontation over weapons inspections, and by the international response to unrest in Yugoslavia's Kosovo province between Serbs and ethnic Albanians seeking independence. In Iraq, the US failed to win much support among its Gulf War allies for the use of force to compel Saddam Hussein to come clean on his weapons of mass destruction. Despite the UN-brokered accord that defused the standoff, many US officials expect Saddam to stage new confrontations over his nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons programs. …